Steaming jazz in the summertime

Jazz icon Wynton Marsalis at Rose Music Center

By Tim Walker

Photo: Wynton Marsalis will perform with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on July 12 at Rose Music Center; photo: Frank Stewart

Though no one would doubt that Wynton Marsalis is a very busy man, there is also no mistaking the joy in the great man’s voice when he discusses jazz—the music he loves and has become so closely identified with.

“Jazz has always been a music that deals with our national identity,” Marsalis says during a recent phone conversation. “I think that in American history, jazz is unique. In the early twentieth century, we were the first thing integrated in this country…Louis Armstrong, Bennie Goodman.When you talk about integration in the twentieth century, jazz was integrated long before baseball, for example. The majority of jazz fans in America were white. Jazz has always dealt with that national identity. We as a nation need to know more about our arts, because it’s enjoyable. We look at the arts like it’s something we have to do, like eating your vegetables or something,” he says with a laugh.

“That is only because of the really intense need for education in this country,” he continues. “Democracy requires more education. We have to be equipped to participate in our way of life. And that is one reason why Jazz at Lincoln Center has 13 different education programs.”

Wynton Marsalis, legendary trumpet player and managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center for 28 years now, is more than just an amazing musician and composer who has released dozens of classic recordings and won nine Grammy Awards. He is an accomplished author and educator who has written, among other books, the essential “Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life.” If the art of jazz is being discussed, he is an indispensible part of the conversation—Marsalis has become the de facto international ambassador for jazz music, one of the few truly American art forms. His oratorio on slavery and freedom, “Blood on the Fields,” became the first and remains the only jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize in music.

When asked about his current band and tour, which comes to Huber Heights on July 12, Marsalis replies, “The Blue Engine Tour features 15 musicians onstage, including myself, a full Dixieland orchestra. The tour is a celebration of a record label that was started recently called Blue Engine Records, a creation of Jazz at Lincoln Center in association with Sony Music Entertainment.”

Blue Engine Records, working closely with Marsalis, plans to release over 80 remarkable jazz recordings over the next 10 to 15 years, all culled from the Jazz at Lincoln Center archives. Planned releases could potentially feature studio recordings featuring the pianist Chick Corea, a musical Mass with a gospel choir written for the 200th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, and concerts with saxophonists Ted Nash and Sherman Irby.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis is currently in the midst of a 12-city tour. As part of the Blue Engine Tour, the band will appear in six summer festivals, including Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ 25th anniversary season, where the band will be joined by the vocalist René Marie, and Tanglewood’s 75th-anniversary season. For its first-ever appearance at the Caramoor Jazz Festival, the band will be joined by the singer Cécile McLorin Salvant.

“On this tour we’ll be playing a lot of our more festive music,” he continues. “Summer music. Music with a New Orleans groove, some original compositions, and of course some traditional songs, things that people love. Blue Note recordings… we just have so much music. And we’ll be playing a lot of music that will be featured on our upcoming live album, which was recorded in Cuba.”

Jazz music, originating in America, remains unexplored and underappreciated by so many listeners. It is the soundtrack of this nation’s history. Encompassing a dialogue on history, on love, on race and on freedom, the sound of jazz is the sound of joy, something Marsalis emphatically agrees with.

“From the playing standpoint and from the audience,” he insists. “I don’t put all the responsibility on just the audience. Sometimes, the playing needs to say that better, too. For me, I’ve been lucky because the musicians I play with are unbelievable. They all run jazz programs, can teach, they all write, they are all artistic directors of bands. At this point there are really a lot of leaders in the band, and people who can do shows. We’ve been together for a long time, and they really play on a very high level.”

You can almost hear the smile on his face as he reflects on his current situation, and closes, simply, “I am lucky.”

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis performs on Sunday, July 12 at 7 p.m. at The Rose Music Center at The Heights, 6800 Executive Blvd. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets are still available. For more information, please visit rosemusiccenter.com or wyntonmarsalis.org.

 

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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